Monday, October 22, 2007

Up above me

I have atleast one example every week about how non hierarchical Finland is. It can range from a person living in the same building as someone else who is so low in the food chain that won’t even show up in his manpower reports. Or a CEO of an international company opening the door for a scatter brained Indian girl. A manager sending her CV (!) in the first introduction she sends to a new hire who is more than a decade junior to this manager. I am amazed everyday. Why is it so different? Why does it feel so liberating and yet so scary at the same time? The respect for the individual gives everyone a chance to claim their own breathing space. It puts responsibility where there is power, and makes questioning a challenge not an insult. It encourages development and gives everyone a chance to think, and speak. It’s the poster boy so to speak, of the Western advancement and development, and the sophistication of the society.

Let’s take a couple of steps back. Why is India ‘hierarchical’? Respect for elders, care for parents, respect for teachers & authority figures is drummed down our heads right from when we are very young. It’s the theme of so many fables and epics and songs and proverbs. The ideal state, or Ramrajya, is where a son will willingly spend 14 years in exile to fulfill a promise his father made to his step mother. Or when Kabir says,
Guru Gobind dou khade, kaake laagu paay, (God & my teacher both stand before me, who should I first pay my respects to)
balihari Guru aapne, Jo Gobind diyo bataye (I fall at the feet of my teacher, who taught me what God means)
It seeps right into the culture, straight down to our hearts. It’s the reason teaching is a noble profession, why old age is more associated with wisdom than with loneliness. It’s why grandparents are as much a part of a child’s mindspace as parents. Why joint families were successful, why no Indian wedding has less than 100 of the couple’s ‘close’ relatives. It’s what makes us who we are, am I really simple minded enough to call it ‘hierarchical’ with disdain and add it to my list of things India does wrong?

And to put in in a corporate context (over simplification again, we don’t turn into different people at work, we are just all at different degrees of pretense) it’s the reason we Indians take leaps of faith, stick with a company, relocate to a new place (which we are apprehensive about but then grow to love), pour in our soul into a job, love our leaders and work for them. It’s passion and faith, if put into the right people, it can do so much more than a rational commitment to a faceless corporate. How can anyone think of it as a pure negative?

So my usual question, which side is correct? And my usual answer, they both are. Depends on the context.

But then what should I be? Ofcourse I can’t (or want to) change my DNA. I respect my parents,I will make changes/adjustments in my life to accommodate them like they’ve done for me all my life. I will accept some people as my teachers & role models, who have put in the time, effort and energy to do the right thing and to do it well. I will look for my leaders to guide me, take care of me, demand from me and be true to me and the entity we work for.

But I won’t think someone is superior because they’ve been around longer. I won’t pander to an ego. I won’t have an ego someone else has to pander to. I will be honest in my feedback, and reasonable in my expectations. I won’t give away my time without understanding where it will be used, and won’t ask for anyone to do something they don’t believe in. I will do my best, and owe loyalty to those who are doing their best for more than just themselves. I will think long and hard, have a mental model which has thought behind it, not just habit. I will learn more and internalize what is harmonious. And most importantly, I will understand what drives other people and respect those drivers.

I will keep the windows of my mind open, but I won’t get blown away by the winds.


Artemis Fowl III said...

i cannot find a single point to disagree or differ with you in this article.

you know what pisses me off the most? elders telling me "how much have you seen life? just 24 years?"

if it was all about age and experience, all 60+ people would be CEOs and no one would be working hard... you just have to grow old to reach the top... hasnt it ever occured that you end up admiring a person younger than you???

my maternal granddad told me one shloka of the ancient relics in our culture... dont believe a holy sage if your mind doesnt find it fit, but believe even a parrot if your mind finds enough logic...

bhavna, if you read about ancient indian history, you will be surprised how close to the finnish culture we were... its just that we are taught not to ask questions since we were born...

why that happened is another story that i will tell you in time...

Jyoti said...

Cant wait to meet ya...& discover what is 'changed' in you!!!

nisha said...

there was this one summer trainee in my company who used to keep calling his guide 'madam' despite her obvious irritation. one day she asked him why he kept doing it. the summer trainee ofcourse, genuinely only meant to respect her for her experience. she then said something simple yet so sensible, 'respect is earned not given just because of age and tenure' again, there may be a minority who subscribe to this in India, but there's still a pretty long way to go before it becomes a way of life...